OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Academy climate panel calls for national adaptation strategy

05/19/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A national interdisciplinary climate change panel, established by Congress through the National Academies, released a report on Wednesday advocating the need for a national strategy on climate change adaptation.

Such a strategy would be a departure from the way the country traditionally has operated, the authors say, and needs to consider a range of possible future climate conditions and impacts, including “some well outside the realm of past experience.”

“Historically in this country, we’ve managed our people, our natural resources and our infrastructure based on what has happened in the past,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University, and one of the panelists. “We’ve gone through a relatively stable period of climate that hasn’t required non-traditional approaches.

“It has become apparent that we need a national strategy to provide the coordination that will provide the information and research necessary for informed decision-making,” he added.

The Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change is one of several panels comprising “America’s Climate Choices,” a congressionally requested series of studies from the National Resource Council designed to inform and guide the nation’s response to climate change.

While most state and federal agencies, and many other organizations, acknowledge climate change and understand its potential impacts, Mote said, there has been a lack of strategic planning for what needs to change. Creating adaptation strategies, he added, has been difficult because of a lack of coordination, funding and local research.

The panelists say the federal government needs to play a role as “catalyst and coordinator,” and help facilitate actions on multiple levels. Climate adaptation strategies may be complex and multi-faceted, they point out, and require interaction between state and federal agencies, local governments, tribal entities, private industry, non-governmental organizations and others.

“People are frustrated because they want to do something, but they don’t have all of the information they need,” said Mote. “Understanding that climate change may cause sea levels to rise is one thing; planning for it is another. What do you plan for? A rise of three feet? Or 20 feet?”

Adaptation strategies need to consider the time frame of potential decisions, the risk tolerance of an action and the location where the decision will be implemented, Mote said.

“Buying a beach house for your retirement is a decision that may have a 20-year time frame,” he pointed out, “whereas retrofitting a factory near sea level with a cost of $100 million or more is something you may want to last 50 to 100 years, given the cost. In addition to the time frame, you have to look at risk. You might be able to tolerate the introduction of salt water from higher tides, storm surge or sea level rise into a wetland once a year, but can you allow that intrusion into your community’s fresh water supply?

“And because of Oregon’s turbulent tectonic history, the coastline is constantly changing, and location is important,” Mote added. “So as a local decision maker, you need to ask – what is the best information I can bring in before making a decision?”

The Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, housed at OSU and part of the Oregon University System, was established by the Oregon legislature to be that conduit of knowledge related to climate change from the research world to state and community leaders. Oregon faces several climate change adaptation issues that also require more research, said Mote, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. These include:

  • A river-by-river projection of future summer water supplies that are dependent upon snowmelt or glacial melt;
  • A fine-scale assessment of wildfire threats and bark beetle outbreaks;
  • An analysis of coastal infrastructure and resources that are at-risk from rising sea levels, increasing coastal waves, and extreme rainfall events.

“The need for a national plan is acute,” Mote said. “The needs are local and regional, but the funding and coordination have to come from the federal government.”

Copies of the report are available online at www.nap.edu